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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Writer's Toolbox: Must-Haves for Today's Author, with Links to FREE Downloads

by Ruth Harris

As a follow up to Anne’s post, How To Get A Book Published for new or beginning writers, we’ve decided to post a list of the must-haves and the beyond-the-basics that belong in every writer’s toolbox.

Even writers just starting out will probably already have at least some of these tools, but there is so much out there on the web with new stuff appearing constantly, much of it FREE, that we want to add a page to the blog to round up what’s currently available.

The tools vary in cost from pricey to moderate (usually meaning around $35 or $40) to modest (under $10) and many are FREE. Most of the paid apps offer generous try-before-you-buy terms and conduct occasional sales or specials. All provide tutorials, on-line manuals, user forums and/or reviews on-line.

The popularity of ebooks and self publishing has also caused a revolution in word processors. They have evolved far beyond the usual spell check and grammar check. Most can compile your book or short story into epub and mobi files and some even give you the tools to create your cover.


MSWord is the Big Kahuna, the most basic word processor of all and comes in versions for the PC and the Mac. For years MSWord has been the industry classic: the app editors and agents prefer. Has its lovers and haters but it’s powerful, sometimes kind of klutzy, and can do just about anything.

In addition to all the word processing basics, MSWord can format your book into epub and mobi files for upload. India Drummond, an indie publisher, has created an excellent video tutorial here.

MSWord also provides the tools that will allow you to create your cover. I did say it was powerful, didn’t I? Here’s one on-line tutorial about making a cover in MSWord. 

Scrivener comes in PC and Mac versions and is coming—soon! everyone hopes—for iOS. Almost infinitely flexible, Scriv is a must-have for many writers including me. If you’ve never used Scriv, there’s a bit of a learning curve but it’s quite intuitive and very logical once you get the hang of it.

The manual is extensive, the video tutorials are excellent and the help forum is outstanding. Keith Blount, Scriv’s developer, often appears to answer questions and his savvy crew is responsive and will walk you through any dilemmas.

Like MSWord, Scriv compiles to both epub and mobi and does it so fast that at first I thought nothing happened and I’d done something wrong. Bottom line: 5 stars all the way.

Nisus (pronounced Nice-us, for Mac only) is a less well known but superb word processor, one I’ve used for years. Moderately priced Nisus works well with Scriv, it’s elegant but powerful, very stable, and you can compile your epubs and mobis from within the Pro version. Their user forum is terrific and Martin—I think he’s one of the developers—is there to answer questions and help troubleshoot.

Atlantis (PC oriented) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord lookalike. Comes with a try-before-you-buy offer, offers on-line help and user’s forum. Atlantis can do much of what MSWord does including turn your text into an epub or mobi file.

Google Documents is cloud based, fast, responsive, and FREE. Google docs does its job well and is particularly useful for collaborators who can log in from different locations and work together. Since Docs is cloud based, you get off-site back up along with a fine basic word processor.

Pages (Mac only) is iOS native, a modestly priced ($9.99) word processor to use on your iPad, iPhone, iPod. Pages also compiles to epub and mobi.

In addition to the brand names listed above, there are also FREE word processors available on-line. You will find a round up plus reviews of FREE word processors for the PC here.  

FREE for the Mac is a clean and simple word processor called Bean.


You do back up, don’t you? Because if you don’t you’d better start NOW! (For a tragic, cautionary tale, here's a story from the Kindleboards about a writer whose laptop was stolen from his car recently.)

Dropbox is so ubiquitous and so essential for off-site back up that it’s a must-have. It’s FREE, creates one file in the cloud and another on your desktop as you work. DB also synchs all your devices and works seamlessly with both mobile and desktop apps.

Microsoft offers FREE cloud storage called SkyDrive and Apple’s version is called (guess what?) iCloud. Google’s cloud storage, Drive, is also FREE and works on all popular systems.

Mozy, Carbonite, and CrashPlan are remote backup services. All offer a FREE trial and various subscription plans for personal and business back up.

Publishing blogger Passive Guy—he’s worked on computers for thirty years and knows first hand the soul-searing tragedy of lost work—details his belts-and-suspenders back up method here.


Evernote is a powerful, FREE note keeping app that works on all platforms. Searchable by keyword or tags, includes reminder and web clipping functions, great for keeping research including images, for brainstorming ideas, for parking stuff you’re not yet sure what to do with. Cloud-based, syncs across all your devices. I consider Dropbox (or some form of cloud backup system) and Evernote indispensable.

Blogger Elizabeth Joss wrote a helpful post about how she uses Evernote to get organized and be more productive.


Calibre is a FREE e-book manager that does e-book file conversion, synchs your devices and manages your library.

Sigil, another FREE download runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. Sigil lets you edit epub files and comes with an on-line manual and user forum. As far as I know, right now there is nothing similar for editing mobi files which is where Calibre comes in. You edit your epub in Sigil, then use Calibre to convert to mobi.

Jutoh (Windows, Mac, and Linux) is a moderately-priced app that creates ebooks (including covers) in all the popular file formats.


Name generators come in handy when you’re stuck for just the right name and offer suggestions appropriate for different periods of history, various ethnicities, celebrity baby names and even literary genres ranging from scifi to steampunk to vampires. Scrivener includes a name generator but there are FREE name generators on line—more here. Some also provide random personality profiles to help you along even more.

Do you have any useful to can’t-live-without apps I’ve overlooked? Anne and I want—and need—your help in building a useful writers’ resource!

Note from Anne: There's so much here I did not know! Thanks Ruth! I had no idea so many of these things are FREE. 


99 cents for three full-length New York Times bestsellers. Over 1200 pages!
Available on Amazon USNOOK, and Amazon UK

Decades (Book # 1) This bestselling classic is the compelling story of a marriage at risk, a family in crisis and a woman on the brink set against the tumultuous decades of the mid-twentieth century."Absolutely perfect." —Publisher's Weekly "Terrific!" —Cosmopolitan "Powerful. A gripping novel." —Women Today Book Club

Husbands And Lovers (Book # 2) Million copy NYT bestseller! Winner, Best Contemporary, Romantic Times! The story of a wallflower who turns herself into a lovely and desirable woman and the two handsome, successful men who compete for her love. "Steamy and fast-paced." —Cosmopolitan

Love And Money (Book #3)--#1 on Movers and Shakers. Rich girl, poor girl. Sisters and strangers until fate--and murder--bring them face to face. "Richly plotted. First-class entertainment." —NY Times "Fast-paced, superior fiction. A terrifically satisfying 'good read.'" —Fort Lauderdale News Sun-Sentinel


1)  A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

2) Authors: advertise to international readers with EbookBargainsUK.  Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They are launching Ebook Bargains AustraliaEbook Bargains New ZealandEbook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA.

Readers outside the US who want great dealssign up here!

3) Find a Writing Group through Galley CatOne of the most reliable and popular news outlets in publishing is creating a directory for writers to network to get critiques of their work You can sign up here. 

4) SMOKE AND MIRRORS podcasts. Get your short story recorded FREE for an online podcast! Fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

5) Win prizes for memoir! Poetry or prose. NO entry fee. Memoir Journal A prize of $500 and publication in Memoir Journal is given twice yearly for a memoir in the form of a poem or an essay. The editors will judge. Using the online submission system, submit up to five poems or up to 10,000 words of prose. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline August 16th. 

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Social Media Secrets Book Marketers Don't Tell You—Part I: How to Avoid Twitter-Fritter and Facebook-Fail

First: many thanks to Indies Unlimited, which named this blog to its 10 Blogs and Websites Every Indie Should Know. If you're an indie, or thinking of going indie (self-publishing or small-press), do follow them for great tips and news from a very savvy team of writers.

Most writers these days know a good book isn't enough to get you successfully published. Any agent, editor, or book reviewer is going to Google you first—often before they'll even read to the end of your query. Certainly before they request a partial or a book to review.

What comes up on that Google search can make the difference between getting an agent, publisher and reviews—or languishing in obscurity.

Yes, of course it's possible to become a successful author without an online presence, the same way it's possible to get hired for a corporate job if you write your resume on parchment and send it by carrier pigeon.

But your chances are a whole lot better if you conform to established standards.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how authors spend too much time doing meaningless busy work trying to "build platform." 

But I didn't say authors can ignore social media entirely. Social media is our most important tool for getting our books discovered.

Being on social media takes you out of the confines of your own backyard and puts you into the global marketplace. It makes the difference between hawking your book on a local street corner and getting it in front of millions of readers all over the world.

Thing is: we need to learn to use this tool effectively.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers don't seem to know how to do that, so they bully authors into wasting a huge amount of time playing meaningless number games.

Understandably, some authors are getting annoyed. Last week, much-lauded literary author Benjamin Anastas quit Twitter and vented in an eloquent blogpost. It got a lot of cyberink and sparked some interesting pieces by Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson.

Mr. Anastas voiced his many quarrels with Twitter, most of which boiled down to: Twitter is no good for selling books, and therefore a waste of time.

Thing is, he's right on the first point, but not on the second.

To me, it sounded like somebody saying he was going to get rid of his phone because it's not good for selling aluminum siding to strangers who are just sitting down to dinner.

Mr. Anastas is a smart man, so I suspect the problem is he was never told what Twitter is really for. (Maybe because his marketing department doesn't know either.)


Here is the big secret about Twitter: 

It is not a direct marketing tool. It is a method of communication.

Kinda like a phone. Here's some stuff Twitter IS good for:

1) Quick communications with a large number of people. 

Example: When I was in despair trying to get this blog's Feedburner email program to work last week, I Tweeted asking for help. Within minutes, I had several suggestions, plus a step-by-step guide for converting to a free Mail Chimp email service. (Thanks, Molly Greene!)  I hope I've done it right. Do tell me if you've subscribed and you're still not getting your email notices, or if it's missing from your rss feed.

2) Getting up-to-the minute news from anywhere on the globe.

Example: When there was a tornado in Tuscaloosa, and I wanted to know if my Tuscaloosa friends were OK, I went to #TuscaloosaTornado and found hundreds of real-time Tweets telling what neighborhoods had been hit.

3) Giving your friends a shout-out (and occasionally yourself.)

Example: When I saw that a friend who's a newly minted agent had been mentioned in Publishers Lunch, I Tweeted it, with a @ message to her. It was the first she'd heard of it, so it was a two-bird stone. I informed her of the good news and at the same time let a lot of people know about her new agency.

And yes, you can toot your own horn occasionally. You can certainly Tweet "my book was just nominated for a RITA" or "I got a rave review from Big Al."

But only do this a few times. Imagine you're phoning your friends with the good news, not cold-calling everybody in the phone book.

However, the most important Tweets might be for a friend's triumph. This week, a Tweep posted a link with an @ message congratulating us on our Indies Unlimited kudos. I thought—"what a nice thing for her to add a special Tweet to me. Who is she, again?" I visited her blog, was intrigued, and bought one of her books.

Yeah. That's how it works.

4) Connecting with people. 

Example: Somebody asks a question on this blog. I take some time with the answer and want to let the commenter know there's an answer waiting. If her name leads to a Twitter profile, I tweet her a heads-up. Yes, I could send an email or DM, but a Tweet lets other people who might be interested know the post is there, too. I might add a hashtag like #blogging if that's what it's about.

That way we've made one connection on the blog and another through Twitter. That means we'll take more notice of each other the next time we meet online.

5) Sharing information and talking about it.

This can be anything from Tweeting a tsunami warning for your patch of coastline to links to your own newest blogpost or an article about the new Veronica Mars movie (especially if your tweeps are mystery lovers.)

Example: A few days ago I Tweeted a link to an article about the copy of J.K. Rowling's pseudonymous book that sold for $6000+ and added I thought this thing was getting silly. A few people Tweeted back their responses, including Tweep AJ Sykes who said "Agreed. Or maybe it's ugh-greed."

Clever and funny. And I remember him saying some wise things in a comment on Jane Friedman's blog last week. So now he's on my radar as a clever, funny guy. I see he writes steampunk. Not my genre of choice right now, but I ever make the steampunk plunge I know where to go first.

See how that works?
  • Notice I did not say anything about telling strangers what you had for lunch. 
  • Or hammering them with "buy my book" messages. 
  • Or Tweeting endless snippets of text from your opus. (I know marketers love that, but it's so overdone it's all just noise to most of us.) 
Yes, you can tweet that a great book is free or on sale. And that book can be yours, but don't do it more than three times a day. In between other stuff.

And you can Tweet other people's books, too—but only if you genuinely think your followers will like it. Tweeting books you haven't read may seem to be "friendly" to your fellow authors, but it's not friendly to your Tweeps. And it can backfire if it's not a book you'd recommend to a real life friend. Somebody who writes violent thrillers has no business asking a writer of children's books or cozies for a Tweet. It's OK to say no.

Especially since simply Tweeting book titles at strangers does not sell a lot of books anyway. That's what Benjamin Anastas was right about.

But exchanging information can make connections. It's those connections that will get you known so that somebody might want to buy your books some day.

But you don't have to spend a lot of time on those connections. Mr. Anastas complained of Twitter being a time suck—and it certainly can be. But only if you let it.

And that's another way Twitter is like your phone. A phone can't dominate your life if you don't turn it on. Don't dump the phone, just don't pick up if you don't want to talk.

And those marketers who say you should be adding 20 random Tweeps a day so you can amass half a million followers?

That's like saying you should buy a phone with the numbers of 500,000 strangers programmed into it.

If they don't want to talk to you—what exactly is the point?

For more on Twitter—especially for newbies—see my post on Twitter for Shy Persons.

And for some info on how some clever people are making Twitter more useful for book marketing, check out Julie Valerie's review of BookVibe.  It's a new program that analyzes Twitter streams for book discovery. It sounds as if there still are some bugs in it, but it may mean that Twitter will be a better place for direct marketing in the future than it is now.

Now for some Facebook secrets…

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Facebook. I'm kind of a Facebook hater. But that's partly because it's taken me so long to learn to use it. For at least a year I didn't post anything but links to my blog, bits of publishing news, and announcements of my book launches (Yeah, I launched 7 in a year, plus 3 anthologies. I guess I didn't have much else to talk about.)

But this year I started posting literary cartoons, inspirational stuff about books, and a few jokes. All of a sudden, I started having fun conversations on FB.

And this week I saw a great post from Kristen Lamb that gave me an a-ha moment.

It solidified all the stuff I've been learning by trial and error for the past six months. (Lots of error.)

1) Don't just "friend" people.

BE a friend. Connect with people in a non-phony way. NOT writer to fan. Person to person.

2) A personal "friend" page is more valuable than a "like" page.

You can stop humiliating yourself begging for "likes." They mean absolutely nothing if people don't make return visits. And why do you want that Christian picture book writer to like your BDSM erotica page, anyway? It will do nothing for you and will signal Facebook to send some very unwelcome advertising her way.

People would rather be your friend than worship at your feet. Don't expect people to "like" you if you don't do anything likeable.

3) Nonstop bragging isn't especially likeable. 

How weird is it that I have to say that? But I do. That's because marketers tell us to advertise 24/7. When what we should be doing is joking around and getting to know people.

4) LOLCats, Oprah-quotes, and funny stuff from George Takei will sell more books in the long run than all those "book launch party" pages, pleas for tweets, or those links to Publisher's Lunch. (Yes, I'm seriously guilty of that last one.)

As Kristen said in her post: "People can’t connect emotionally to yet another DBW article about how Barnes and Noble’s stock is tanking. They CAN however connect to kittens, Sharknado, tales of missing socks, superheroes, kid stories, pet stories, Mayhem and Grumpy Cat."

5) Facebook author pages don't get much traffic because you can't use them to interact with people. They just sit there saying "worship me." All most of us do is post news about our books. Which snoozifies pretty much everybody if it's non-stop.

Here's Kristen again. "There are writers who seriously believe that Facebook is out to get them because their fan pages are being hidden. NO. It’s just that, in the Digital Age, there is a steep price for being boring."

I wish I'd read Kristen's post three years ago when I started on Facebook. I've wasted a lot of time being boring. Here's another quote:

"Engage us, talk to us, stop selling to us and guess what? We will like coming to your page. And we will have fun and "Like" stuff, comment and SHARE your content." It's worth reading her whole post.

6) The most important Facebook pages aren't your personal pages or your author page. (Or those endless promotional "event" pages.)

They are your friends' pages.

If you visit your friends' pages and make them feel like equals rather than minions, and encourage them through their triumphs and crises, the way you'd like them do do for you, they will reciprocate.

And they might even be interested in reading your next book.

Yeah. That's how social media works. It's, um, social. And as with all social interactions, the best rule is always the Golden one.

In August, I'm going to post Part 2. I'll be talking about how blogging revived my career, and I'll divulge the #1 blogging secret no blogging guru will tell you. 

So what about you, scriveners? Have you been feeling the way Benjamin Anastas does about Twitter? What do you think you could teach marketers about social media? Any tips to add about Twitter and Facebook?


Sale extended! 99 cents for three hilarious mysteries. Thanks everybody, for keeping it in the top 50 in comic fiction on Amazon for five weeks!

Available on Amazon USNOOK, and Amazon UK

"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess


1) The Alice Munro Short Fiction Contest. Entry fee $25 adult, $10 Teen. $2000 (Canadian) in prizes. 5000 words or less, unpubished work. More info at Alice Munro Festival Short Story Competition Deadline August 1.

2) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest. They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1.

3)  The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com.

4) COMPOSE Literary Journal. Submissions are open for their Fall 2013 issue.  This prestigious journal was founded by Suzannah Windsor, of Write it Sideways, and she's put together an amazing editorial staff. They are looking for art and photography as well as poems, literary short fiction, novel excerpts and essays. Must not be previously published (that includes anything that has appeared on your blog.)

We love your comments! If you can't get through Blogger's hoop-jumping, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it personally.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Are Your Dreams Standing in the Way of Writing Success? 5 Dreams That Can Interfere With Your Goals

What’s the difference between a dream and a goal?

Short answer: reality.

A dream is a creature of the imagination, full of sparkles and rainbows and magic. It’s our castle in the air where we live our fantasy lives. We all need them. But we also need to recognize them for what they are.

A goal is something doable. Like getting a college degree, saving enough money to go to a writers conference, or finishing that novel.

"I want to be a rich and famous writer" is a dream.

"I want to write a novel and get it published" is a goal.

We need to learn the difference if we're going to succeed at anything.

Here are some common writers' dreams that can stand in the way of writing success.

1) The Travel-Adventure Dream

You know the one—most writers have it at some point. We're going to travel around the country in a camper/sports car/motorcycle—writing our own version of On the Road, Travels with Charlie, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Or we're going to go live in Paris and become the next Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein.

I plead guilty to this one. When I was a kid, I always pictured myself traveling the world, having romantic adventures and turning them into lovely novels.

Thing is, I got the traveling and adventures part right, but until I was nearly forty, I’d never actually produced one of those novels.

Novelists don't need adventures. They need the talent to sit "alone in a room" as critic Michael Ventura famously said in his classic essay, The Talent of the Room.

And as A. J. Hartley pointed out at Writers Digest's Thrillerfest this week. "Shakespeare didn't ever go to Italy."

I'll never regret any of my own visits to Italy, but they weren't essential to my writing career.

My dream of romantic adventure was standing in the way of my goal of becoming a novelist.

2) The Award-Winner Dream

Who hasn’t had the Academy Award fantasy?

When you were twelve, you probably rehearsed your Oscar acceptance speech in front of your mirror and told your hairbrush that you thanked the Academy, your favorite teacher, and your parents—carefully leaving out your bratty little sister who insisted on watching her stupid cartoons instead of the whole red-carpet lead-in to the Oscar broadcast.

Yeah, a lot of us have been there.

But sometimes we can get snagged on that dream and it holds us back. Whether it’s winning an Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer, or making it to the top of the NYT bestseller list—picturing that kind of rare occurrence as your sole image of success can hold you back from the real thing.

Success comes in increments: baby steps. You need to consider yourself successful when you finish your first novel, send your first query, self-publish your first book, write your first blogpost, get your first royalty check, etc. Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the huge leap from where you are now to where you want to be.

I have an old friend who has always wanted to be a playwright. Twenty years ago, she won a scholarship to a prestigious playwriting workshop. Since then, she hasn’t written a word. But she's always talking about the grand, epic, historical play she plans to write some day. The kind that would cost millions to stage.

So when she told me recently she had a new idea for a fun little musical—one that might be possible to put on without first winning the lottery—I suggested we brainstorm and write an outline. While she talked, I jotted down her ideas for scenes, set design, music, etc., hoping I could help her get back on track to her goal.

After a couple of hours, I presented her with the outline and tried to fill her with encouragement. I told her I knew some people at a community theater who might be willing to do it as a readers’ theater, and maybe even stage it. I hoped that would inspire her to sit down at the keyboard and start writing.

Instead, she flew into a rage.

No community theater for her! She wanted Broadway!! Unless this play was going to be a contender for a Tony Award, she wouldn’t bother to write it. It was her life-long dream to stand on that stage and accept her Tony award from the American Theater Wing. She had it all visualized: what she’d wear, what she’d say, who she’d thank.

How could I be so cruel as to take her dream away!

I put on a fake smile worthy of Camilla the Manners Doctor and ushered her out the door. I knew at that moment that my friend was never going to write a play.

Her overblown Tony-award dreams blocked her from her goal of becoming a playwright.

3) The Literary Kudos Dream

This was one of mine, too.  In my dream I was always able to support myself with writing (somebody had to pay those cafe bills in Paris.)

But I didn’t have a clue how to write stuff that might actually make money.

I mostly read literary fiction, and my early work consisted of self-involved, convoluted Alice Munro-wannabe stories and esoteric poems full of classical references.

Yes, I loved reading romantic suspense and mysteries, but I didn’t want to be a pulp fiction writer. Oh, no: I wanted to be reviewed in the New Yorker!

Right. I didn’t take into account that pretty much everybody who is published in the New Yorker has a boat-load of academic credentials and teaches at a prestigious university.

I let my dream of literary acclaim stand in the way of writing the kind of fiction that might give me a professional career.

4) The Rich Writer-of-Leisure Dream

Richard Castle has a lot to answer for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the TV show Castle (and I’d watch Nathan Fillion read an IRS tax form.)

But do you ever see that guy writing books?

Movies and books are full of characters who are rolling in money they've earned from writing fiction. Some of you may be old enough to remember that author who owned the Hawaiian mansion in Magnum P.I. Yeah. Like that guy. Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote never had any money worries either.

But the truth is, even successful, bestselling authors don’t make as much as the average lawyer, professor,  doctor, or accountant (and they don't get benefits.) The J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings are very rare indeed.

The reality is the vast majority of writers have day jobs. Either we teach or edit or work at something entirely separate from writing. And we don't have much spare time.

If you want to be in the self-supporting minority, you have to work long, hard hours. To make the kind of money Richard Castle supposedly has, you'd have to churn out titles at the rate of about one a month. Even so, it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to afford Castle’s loft (or all those ex-wives), and you certainly wouldn't have the time to run around solving crimes for the NYPD.

Real writers write. A lot.

Don't let your dream of living like a fictional author keep you from becoming an author in real life. 

5) The “I Never Interfere with my Genius” Dream

There’s a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde, and sometimes to Byron:  "I never rewrite. Who am I to interfere with genius?" (I can't find it with a Google search, so I must not have it quite right. Anybody out there know the exact quote?)

Some writers believe their talent is all they need, so they never subject their tender artistic feelings to the tough work of learning the craft of writing.

But writing is like any other skill: you have to learn the rules and practice, practice, practice.

No matter how great your natural golf swing, you have to learn the rules of the game of golf, or you won’t win any tournaments. It’s the same with writing. "Talent" only gets you so far.

But I’ve known writers who spend years churning out unreadable novels—never rewriting—refusing to learn about point of view, or story arc, or pacing. Their work is constantly rejected by agents and editors, which they attribute to various conspiracies or scams, never to their lack of knowledge.

If these authors self-publish, they get dismal sales and scathing reviews that fill them with despair.

I’ve read lots of blogposts by authors who lament the unfairness of the industry/buying public, but when I look at their books, the reasons for their failures jump from the first page: bad grammar, typos, impenetrable prose, clichéd phrases and characters.

First drafts are, by nature, s****y, as Anne Lamott taught us. That’s why we rewrite.

Real genius is learning to rewrite well.

As Richard North Patterson said,

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing."

If you fall in love with the dream of your own "genius" you'll fail in your goal of becoming a professional author.


What are your writing goals? Can you clear your brain of the misty fantasies and figure out what you really want—and then map out a step-by-step path to reach it?

Your goals can change as you mature as a writer, but they need to be clear. Do you want to be self-supporting? Do you want literary acclaim? Those aren’t always mutually exclusive, but you're more like to reach one if you let go of the other for a while.

Concentrate on what's doable, then set a goal. You can have another one after that, and another one after that—and one day, it may result in that big dream actually coming true.

What about you, scriveners? Have you had some of these dreams? Have you let them keep you from your goals the way I did? What other dreams can keep a writer from success? 

Book Deal of the Week

If you haven't read any of the Camilla books, this is the one to start with


 A debutante loses everything and is accused of murder. But she proves her innocence with the help of a cast of wacky characters, including a plucky octogenarian,  a wise young trash collector, and the hottest newsman since Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night."
"The Best Revenge is part bildungsroman and part picaresque "Perils of Pauline" (Calamities of Camilla?) that while laugh-out-loud funny, carries a message about how we view ourselves and how others' views of us may conflict, yet make us grow."...Richard Alan Corson.


1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest.  They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1, 2013

2) A site for KOBO READERS: TrindieBooks.com. This Canadian site is the KindleNationDaily for Kobo. Really nice folks, affordable rates, and their ads are FREE if your book is free for Kobo. Reach some of those voracious Canadian readers. Kobo is the most popular ereader in Canada.  Submit your book here. 

3) A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

4) Advertise to British readers with EbookBargainsUK. Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They will be launching Ebook Bargains Australia, Ebook Bargains New Zealand, Ebook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India soon, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA. If you're in any of those countries, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

5) Murder And Mirth - A Contest: Submissions are being accepted for The  Killer Wore Cranberry: Room For Thirds anthology. All stories must be between 1,500 - 5,000 words. Send in .doc, .rtf or .odt format only. Stories MUST be about murder and mayhem happening at Thanksgiving, feature a typical Thanksgiving dish as a vital part of the story (turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc.) and - most importantly - they must be funny. Says editor Jay Hartman, "This anthology is all about making people laugh while enjoying a great mystery at the same time." Previously published works are fine as long as author has  electronic rights. Submit to (and questions): jhartman@untreedreads.comDeadline is September 1st.

We love your comments! If you're having a hard time jumping through Blogger's hoops, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it myself.

Please note: FEEDBURNER seems to have stopped sending out emails to this blog's subscribers, and the FB "help" page is so full of inscrutable jargon it might as well be written in Klingon. I hope to get MailChimp installed next week (pray for me; I'm a cybermoron.) Or, if you would like to join my new personal email list for simple notifications of new blogposts, send me an email to annerallen.allen at gmail dot com with the subject "subscribe". Thanks much. 

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

How To Get a Book Published: A Step-by-Step Guide with Links to FREE Information for the New Author

The Interwebz can provide a wealth of information for new writers. In fact you can find pretty much everything you need to know to become a professional, publishing writer here on the Web, absolutely free.

But you'll also find a bunch of time-wasting bad advice that can lead you astray. When you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know who to listen to.

We decided we'd devote a page on the blog to some info for the writer looking to know the basics about how to get published. Thanks much to Janice Konstantinidis, the webmaster of the SLO Nightwriters for the suggestion!

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list: just a jumping-off place.

A new writer has a whole lot of options–and more are springing up daily. Nobody can say which publishing path is right for you. But we can steer you toward some blogs and websites that might help you decide and suggest some posts from our archives you might find useful

We’d love for readers to add their own recommendations to this list in the comments. We’ll incorporate your suggestions into a permanent page on this site.

OK: How do you get a book published?

Follow these steps and click through the links:

1) Learn about the publishing business

First, remember there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobbyist. You do NOT have to get a book published to call yourself a writer. (Do you have to join the PGA tour to call yourself a golfer?)

But if you do decide to publish, you need to be aware you are entering an industry. Whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, it's important to know how the business works.

We recommend reading Galley Cat, the publishing news round-up site.  It reports both traditional and indie news, and posts a self-publishers bestseller list.

Publisher’s Lunch, the newsletter for Publishers Marketplace, is the place for up-to-the minute news on what’s going on in traditional publishing. You can subscribe here. It’s free (Publishers Marketplace is not.) No matter how you publish, it helps to know what is selling right now, and who the players are.

We also are avid readers of the Passive Voice, which gives a round-up of some of the most important publishing stories of the day (and occasionally runs excerpts from this blog—thanks Passive Guy!) But be aware the comments tend to be weighted toward indie publishing.

2) Get short pieces published first 

Think outside the (full-length) book.  If you don’t have any stories, poems, reviews or essays in the archives, start writing them. It’s very, very hard to sell one book when you have no track record, no matter what publishing path you choose.

Then when you're working on your opus—or you’re editing it—you can also be sending stories, poems and essays to journals, local newspapers, blogs, anthologies, contests and websites in order to build your reputation as a professional writer. Again, this is important whether you self-publish or go the traditional route.

A great place to find vetted journals, anthologies and contests is C. Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers. Poets and Writers magazine also has an excellent list of contests, grants and awards.

But do check to make sure you’re not being taken in by bogus contests and fake anthologies. Always check them out at the Writer Beware blog. Bookmark that one. It's a must-read for all writers.

For more info about why you should be writing short pieces, check our archives:

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction
Short is the New Long

3) Finish your book 

Don't waste time worrying about publishing until you've got something to publish. Preferably several things.

Beginning authors are urged by some marketing people to start marketing long before they’re ready. Some seem to think authors should start “building platform” in the womb.

We think this is dumb. Learn to write, read informative blogs where you can network with other authors, and let yourself build up a body of work before you start trying to market yourself.

When you're starting out, it's better to read blogs than to write frantically on your own. Commenting on high-profile blogs is one of the best ways to get your name known.

Unfortunately, social media is writer’s block’s best friend. Not only is it endlessly distracting, but all the information on writing can also turn you into a perfectionist who keeps rewriting chapter one and never gets on with the story.

There are more great blogs on craft than we have room to mention here. It will depend on your book, genre and writing style which ones will resonate. One of my favorites is Janice Hardy's The Other Side of the Story. 

Some of our more popular posts on craft are:

10 Things Your Opening Chapter Should Do: A Checklist
12 Signs Your Novel isn't Ready to Publish

If you’re blocked and having trouble finishing and it’s anywhere near November, try barreling through during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) You can get lots of support from these folks. They help you let go of your perfectionism and get that book onto the page. There are now NaNos in the summertime, too.

4) Get your work critiqued 

And polished.  And critiqued some more. Then have it proofread. If you can exchange proofing with other writers, that can save you a lot of money.

A real-life critique group is great, because authors tend to be solitary and we need some human contact, but there are excellent critique groups online. We recommend  CritiqueCircle.com,  SheWrites or networking through My WANA, QueryTracker.net, AgentQuery.com, or Nathan Bransford’s forums.

But take care of yourself as you’re being critiqued. Realize there’s a little bit of the “blind leading the blind” going on with peer critiquing.

Also, your first critiques can feel like going through a meat grinder. For some self-protection techniques you might want to read these in our archives:

Bad Advice to Ignore From Your Critique Group
Should you eliminate “Was” from Your Writing? Why Sometimes “the Rules” are Wrong

5) Visit lots of blogs, online groups and forums to explore your options.

But avoid groups or forums where everybody tells you you’re a moron if you self-publish/Big 5-publish/small press-publish or whatever. People who believe in one-size-fits all are, um, morons.

You need to choose the right path for yourself and your work, and that’s going to be different for every writer.

Start with this post by Jane Friedman on how to get published. Jane is the former publisher of Writers Digest books and one of the most savvy people in the business.  This was pretty comprehensive when she wrote it in 2011, and most of the info still stands. Jane doesn’t post as much as she used to, but her blog is still one of the best. I love reading the insider publishing scoop from CNN's Porter Anderson there every Thursday in his Writing on the Ether.

A great blog for writers leaning toward the trad route but wanting to keep options open is agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog

Former agent Nathan Bransford's blog is one of the friendliest and most helpful place for newbies, and his archives are gold.

If you’re pretty sure you don’t want to go with mainstream corporate publishing, you’ll want to read Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and David Gaughran.

If you’re leaning indie, the Writers Guide to Epublishing  (WG2E) is friendly and helpful with nuts and bolts issues, and welcomes trad-pubbed authors as well. (And Ruth Harris posts there once a month.)

A free site that's great for Romance writers is RomanceUniversity.

A great place to find blogposts that answer your specific questions is the Writers Knowledge Base, compiled by mystery author  Elizabeth Spann Craig. And if you're on Twitter, follow @ElizabethSCraig for the best links to writerly blogs on the Web.

If you’re pretty sure you want to go for that Big Publishing contract, Agent Janet Reid’s blog is great. Ditto Kristen Nelson’s Pub Rants. Also, the archives of Miss Snark are full of valuable information. And if you're looking for an agent, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog is a must-read.

For YA and children's writers, you can read comprehensive agent profiles from Casey and Natalie at Literary Rambles and you'll also get lots of great info at Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing.

The Savvy Author's Newsletter also has excellent advice and it's free. They have a nice, friendly community as well.

6) Get yourself on social media...slowly

My personal recommendation: start a blog first. But don’t go nuts posting. Once a week or even once a month is OK to start, but the sooner you start one, the better. Search engines take a while to find you and you want Google to know who you are by the time you finish that opus.

A new writer's blog shouldn't be about marketing something you haven't published yet. It should be for networking and making friends. For information on what to blog about you might want to check my post on What Should You Blog About? 

For all social media advice, I highly recommend Kristen Lamb's Blog  (She also has great info on craft, presented in a fun, humorous way.) Plenty of bestselling authors owe their success to Kristen.

I also love Molly Greene’s blog for social networking tips.

In our archives: How Not to Blog (and the rest of my How to Blog series)
And Twitter for Shy Persons

7) Network with other writers

The writers you meet on your way up are probably also on their way up.  This is a business where who you know matters.

A person in your critique group today may be an agent or a bestselling author a year from now. I know many, many successful authors who got their agents through online networking. I know even more who found their designers, publishers, and most avid readers through social media.

You can network on blogs, forums and the many, many booky websites like RedRoom.com, LibraryThing.com, Goodreads.com, Shelfari.com, Reddit.com, Kindleboards.com, etc. and writers groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, plus the hundreds of writing forums.

BUT: Beware any group where you see snark or groupthink. There is horrific bullying going on in some of these sites. The nastiest seem to be the oldest. See my post on Gangs of New Media.

Absolute Write, some LinkedIn and Goodreads groups, and the Amazon forums are NOT recommended for that reason. I especially warn against the Amazon forums. They are rabidly anti-writer. The self-appointed enforcers will punish you for breaking their murky rules of conduct with all the self-righteous sadism of the Taliban slaughtering a schoolgirl. Don't go there.

The Amazon forums are not to be confused with the Kindleboards, where writers are welcome as long as they don't do any promotions.

The most friendly and safe forums are the personally moderated ones like Nathan Bransford’s forumsSheWrites (for women writers) and Kristen Lamb’s WANAtribe

Do NOT join more than two or three forums or groups. If you don’t find simpatico folks, move on. This is for making friends, NOT selling books.

Remember you are looking for friendship, moral support and an exchange of useful information.

8) Cultivate a patient attitude

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  I know you’re dying to get published, but believe me, it takes time to learn to be a writer. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to learn to do something well, and that sounds about right.

And I’m not just talking craft. You need to learn to take criticism with grace and never let them see you sweat.

If you think your critique group is bad, wait until the Amazon Forum Taliban hits you with 2 dozen one-stars because one of them knows your stalker ex-girlfriend who says you ditched her a week before the prom.

And you DO NOT WANT TO PUBLISH TOO SOON. It's the number one mistake new writers make.

That includes putting your book on your blog. Blogging is publishing. Lots of impatient newbies decide to blog their rough drafts. You don’t want to do that if you have any aspirations to being a traditionally published writer. Here’s Rachelle Gardner with a great post on the subject.

9) Learn to write a great query, synopsis and hook

Anybody wanting to traditionally publish needs to learn to write a query and a synopsis.

And sorry, self-pubbers, you do too. You’re going to be querying reviewers, bloggers, bookstore owners, etc throughout your professional life.  You have to be able to tell people about your book in three sentences or less.

Learn this now.

Best place to learn how to query: Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog.

Another is Nathan Bransford’s archives. Here's his great post on How to Write a Query Letter.

For an overview of Hooks, Loglines, Pitches check in our archives.

10) Decide what publishing road you want to take and start your career.

If you want an overview of your choices, check out my post on "Who are the Big 6? Answers to the not-so-dumb questions you were afraid to ask"

Then you can take one of any of a number of paths:

* Send out queries to agents if you want to try for a Big 5 contract. Find the right agent to query through AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net. And always, always, always visit the agent's own website to read the guidelines before you query.
* Query editors at small and independent digital presses if you want a publisher but prefer not to go corporate. You can find a list of literary small presses at Poets and Writers. I'd love to have a list of small and indie digital presses for genre fiction but they pop in and out of business so often it's hard to keep up. If anybody knows of a good list, please let us know!
* Submit to digital imprints of the Big 5 that do not require an agent (but before you sign a digital press contract, read Writer Beware on the new digital imprints and their contracts.) 
* Hire an editor and get your book polished up to self-publish. For nuts and bolts info on how to do that, read the archives of David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital. For a list of vetted editors try the Editorial Freelancers Association.

If you’re not tech-savvy and need help in self-publishing, we’ve heard good things about BookBaby.com and Draft2Digital.

Smashwords is also a great way to get on a number of platforms. And CEO Mark Coker has lots of great info on his blog. He's super-savvy and 100% pro-author. And people tell me Mark Coker's FREE book on formatting is a must read for every self-publisher.

11) Learn that rejection is part of the process

Scathing critiques, agent and editor rejections, terrible reviews: every single author who's ever lived has had to endure them.

Right now, go to the Amazon bestseller list. How many books do you see that you really, really want to read right now? Be honest.

Not that many, right?

Does that mean the other books aren’t good?

No. It means you personally didn’t feel like reading them today.

That’s what an agent does every time she looks through her queries. She has to choose what she personally likes. You could be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but if she’s in the mood for vampire erotica, you're getting a rejection.

From her. There’s always somebody else.

For some great insider info on what rejection really means, check in our archives:

11 Reasons Why Writers Get Rejected—And Why Only 3 of them Matter by Ruth Harris
Rejection: Why it Doesn’t mean What You Think it Means by Catherine Ryan Hyde

If you want more info on the care and feeding of the writers’ soul, as well as lots of in-depth information about the publishing process, you might want to spring for a copy of How to be a Writer in the E-Age by Catherine Ryan Hyde and yours truly. Not free. But a bargain at $2.99 for the ebook.

And don’t forget to have fun. Publishing is a journey. It’s important to enjoy yourself along the way.

Oh, and what can you do right now, this minute? You can write your author bio. It will make you feel like a professional and you can have it ready and waiting the first time one of those stories gets accepted.

Here's our post on How to Write an Author Bio Even if You Don't Feel Like an Author...Yet.

OK, Scriveners: What can you add to our list? Any must-read blogs that helped you on your road to publication? Any forums where you found BFFs? We welcome all your suggestions. 


Food of Love--a comic thriller about dieting, chocolate, and a small nuclear bomb

Usually $2.99, now only 99c on Amazon , Amazon UK and NOOK 

"This hilarious page-turner packs a profound satirical bite. It's a Hollywood romp that provides romance, mystery, and an honest confrontation with the human condition. Food of Love is a funny and powerfully healing book." ...Lucia Capacchione, PhD, bestselling self-help author, Recovery of Your Inner Child


1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest.  They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1, 2013

2) A site for KOBO READERS: TrindieBooks.com This Canadian site is the KindleNationDaily for Kobo. Really nice folks, affordable rates, and their ads are FREE if your book is free for Kobo. Reach some of those voracious Canadian readers. Kobo is the most popular ereader in Canada.  Submit your book here. 

3) Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions. Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, wealth and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. They have some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form

4)  A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

5) Advertise to British readers with EbookBargainsUK. Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They will be launching Ebook Bargains AustraliaEbook Bargains New ZealandEbook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India soon, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA.

If you're in any of those countries, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

We love your comments! If you can't get through Blogger's hoop-jumping, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it manually.

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